Assad Said To Claim Syria Has Initial Russian Missiles

By: CBS/AP (Posted by Amanda Lanum)
By: CBS/AP (Posted by Amanda Lanum)

BEIRUT (CBS/AP) -- Syria's president has told Lebanon's Hezbollah-owned TV station that Damascus has received the first shipment of Russian air defense missiles, according to remarks released Thursday.

Bashar Assad's comment on the arrival of the advanced, long-range S-300 air defense missiles in Syria will further ratchet up tensions in the region and undermine efforts to hold U.N.-sponsored talks with Syria's warring sides.

Israel's defense chief, Moshe Yaalon, said earlier this week that Russia's plan to supply Syria with the weapons is a threat and signaled that Israel was prepared to use force to stop the delivery.

Separately, Syrian rebels pleaded for military and medical aid in the border town of Qusair on Thursday, saying they couldn't evacuate hundreds of their wounded due to an assault by government forces backed by Hezbollah fighters, the Reuters news agency reports.

Assad's comment on the Russian missiles were released by Al-Manar TV, which is owned by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. Al-Manar released the comments through its breaking news service to clients on Thursday morning. An official at the station confirmed to The Associated Press that the remark was from the interview. Al-Manar is to air the exclusive interview later Thursday.

Al-Manar says Assad adds in the interview that Damascus will get the rest of the S-300s soon, according to Reuters.

Reuters quotes an unnamed Israeli official as saying Israel is looking into the reports that some of the missiles were already in Syria.

On Monday, the European Union lifted an arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for individual countries of the 27-member bloc to send weapons to rebels fighting to topple Assad's regime. The move raised fears of an arms race in the Middle East.

Israel has carried out several airstrikes in Syria in recent months that are believed to have destroyed weapons shipments bound for Hezbollah, purportedly from Iran. It is not clear whether Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace in these attacks.

But with the Russian missiles in Syria's possession, the Israeli air force's ability to act could be limited.

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